5 Things We Learned: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United


By Matthew Jones

1. Adnan Januzaj

WOW! What a debut. Before the game the biggest debate was likely to have been ‘how the bloody hell do you pronounce his name?’. By the end the biggest debate was whether he could end up playing for England one day.

Januzaj’s two goals were sublime. The volley, which proved to be the winner, has of course, and rightly so, attracted the most attention. The technique was absolutely magnificent. Eyes on the ball, arms out to balance himself, right foot planted, poise, composure and the execution was perfect.

The first goal is just as good for me. Hitting a fast moving ball into a small gap in the opposite corner of the goal the goalkeeper is moving to, not snatching at it or slicing it high or wide, and all with his supposedly weaker foot. Marvelous.

Behind the scenes, lots of avid United fans who keep an eye on the youth and U21s teams, and staff who work with him, have been excited about the Belgian born Kosovan/Albanian ever since he came to the club two years ago.

He came to my attention last season, when I saw a few reserve team highlights, and now he’s on everyone’s radar. He’s a special talent and every United fan will now be dreaming he has a bright future ahead of him at Old Trafford.

Of course, while we’re hoping he will emulate the scorching and trophy-laden careers that other United youth products Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes have had, there’s always the chance he may go the direction of, say, Luke Chadwick or a certain Federico Macheda.

I don’t know about the rest of United fans, but I have a feeling that this kid IS going to be something special though.

There’s also a few other things to consider. His contract for starters. Januzaj has eight months remaining on his current United deal and the likes of Manchester City, Juventus and even Barcelona are sniffing around him.

It needs to be handled well. Fortunately for David Moyes, he has the example of Paul Pogba to learn from. Losing Pogba was a blow but he struck me as the sort of player who, while exceptionally talented and who is already proving with his form at Juve to be a loss to United, listened to his agent too much and also believed the hype surrounding him a little too much.

Januzaj is articulate, grounded and passionate about making it as a professional. He could not be at a better club and I hope his future will be decided in the coming months.

In the aftermath of the game, one supporter suggested that we give Januzaj the coveted number 7 shirt. While that may be a little premature, I think it just speaks volumes for how excited United fans are and should be by this supremely talented teenager.

For now though, let’s not worry about the ifs and buts, let’s just be content that United have yet another exuberant talent on their hands and who is hopefully on the cusp of greatness.

2. Classic United

Adnan Januzaj aside, most of the reports coming out of the game were still talking about a struggling United side and how we rescued victory, how Moyes must be relieved and how we laboured against a side bottom of the table.

Firstly, let’s give Sunderland credit. They proved that every Premier League game is tough. Kevin Ball has definitely restored some pride since the Paulo di Canio farce. Yes United are a superior team, but you have to lift yourselves to the same level and above that of the team that you are playing against on any given day. Talent is not always enough.

The Black Cats performed their duties perfectly on the weekend. Underdogs but playing at home, scoring an early goal, then going on to enjoy periods of dominance with a partisan crowd roaring them on.

While Moyes will again be beaten with a stick for United scraping a win against a struggling, manager-less team, I think this performance was the best we’ve seen of United this season.

And it was certainly the closest I’ve seen this United team come to emulating a Sir Alex Ferguson United team.

It was classic Fergie. It was classic United.

Fall behind to a struggling team with a catastrophic piece of defending. Wobble and give the travelling support cause for concern. Storm back and claim a barely-deserved win through a new hero.

After getting it tactically wrong in the Manchester derby and not scoring a goal from open play since the opening day of the season, this performance actually gives me encouragement for the rest of the season.

This was the United of old. The United I know and love. This display showed to me that there is hope and life after Ferguson.

The inevitable stories have surfaced of player unrest, of unhappiness over new training regimes. Yet, the performance and the reactions to both goals was there for everyone to see. United are united and if the players conform to and believe in the new ideal, then we can still win trophies this season.

3. David de Gea

After the Spaniard’s world class save in Saturday’s game, is there still a debate about him?

Peter Schmeichel said De Gea’s instinctive and brilliant save to turn Emanuele Giaccherini’s header around the post was one of the best he’s ever seen.

Being at United, De Gea was always there to be fired at. Despite the fact he came to England from a vastly different culture aged just 20, he was never given a chance by most. He cost a lot of money and he was at Manchester United. He had to be brilliant and he had to be brilliant and faultless from the beginning.

Of course he wasn’t and it’s been a baptism of fire for De Gea in his early years in England.

His shot stopping has always been special and his distribution excellent, but the physical nature of the Premier League is vastly different from La Liga and De Gea’s slight frame was a concern.

He’s bulked up hugely and while there are still issues to iron out, most notably his ability and concentration on crosses, there is very little doubt now from any corner that he is becoming a very good goalkeeper.

He claimed the United No1 spot last season after understudy Anders Lindegaard failed to grasp his chance on the several occasions he was afforded, and he really hasn’t looked back.

He is still only 22 and can, will and must improve, but I have no doubt that he will, and I am increasingly encouraged with every game I see him play.

4. Win papers over the defensive cracks

Let’s be happy we came from behind, away from home, to win three points. And by all means, let’s get excited about Adnan Januzaj. But let’s also not kid ourselves.

We scraped the win, against a side bottom of the table and who were essentially manager-less and despite their own woes, dominated the first half.

There’s still a lot of work do be done by Moyes, which I’m sure he will be aware of.

When the Scot arrived, he was keenly aware of the sparsity of our midfield depth.

While he dithered, or rather Ed Woodward, dithered in the transfer market trying to buy creative midfielders like Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera, and we only got Marouane Fellaini at the last minute and at an inflated price, it’s the defence this season which has really stood out as our Achilles heel, not midfield.

While David de Gea pulled off an incredible save, the debate isn’t about his capabilities any more but about the defensive line in front of him.

The Manchester derby proved that Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic cannot be the go to central defensive partnership anymore and that neither can play three games in a week.

I don’t think either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling is really quite at a level where they can demand or deserve a starting place, while Jonny Evans is still feeling his way back into the team from injury.

While I dismissed rumours of Moyes bringing in an established centre half in the summer – Benfica’s Ezequiel Garay was the player closest to joining apparently – I now wonder whether we should have brought someone in.

When I heard the talk and read the stories, I thought it was strange.

Here was Rio coming back from arguably his finest season in a United shirt, a player who despite his declining physical prowess, carried the defence at times last season, and was one of our leading lights as we hauled in title number 20.

Vidic, after his horrible knee injury, was also approaching something near his very best over the course of last season. A player who still has plenty to offer and, on his day, is arguably the finest centre back in world football.

Evans, Jones and Smalling were another year older and had title winning experience under their belts and all seemed on the cusp of making a starting berth in the heart of defence their own.

In the full back positions, Rafael da Silva must be one of the most improved defenders in the Premier League over the last two years and veteran Patrice Evra had recovered from his slump of 18 months ago.

Yet, all is not quite right. Rio and Vidic were torn to shreds in the Manchester derby and Smalling and Jones are too often deployed as full backs, to fulfill a role, even though neither is fully comfortable there.

United were all over the place at times on Saturday. Vidic’s horrible clearance led to the Mackems taking the lead and we were brutally exposed minutes later when Jones’ lapse let Craig Gardner in on goal. The young Englishman recovered and made an excellent tackle but that owed more to Gardner’s hesitancy that good defending and had the former Aston Villa man displayed more composure, Jozy Altidore or Giaccherini could have been fed sooner and United could have easily been 2-0 down.

What Moyes has to do is find a first choice central defensive duo and give them a run of games, while he also has to trust the likes of Jones, Smalling and Evans even when he has doubts.

Despite regaining his form from pre-Luis Suarez saga, adding goals to his game last season and providing an excellent attacking option, I am still nervous about Evra, and am also wondering if Moyes should have just been up front about Leighton Baines and paid Everton what they wanted.

I love Evra but defensively, and that is first and foremost how he makes a living, he has lost a step.

His ability up the pitch comes at the expense of his defensive positioning and, at 32, he no longer has the pace to recover.

I still think Evra has a lot to offer and I don’t think it would have sat well with me, or many United fans, had Baines been bought and suddenly the Frenchman been relegated to the bench, but I think he might have to curtail his forays forward for the sake of the team and his future.

5. Differing fortunes for frontmen

After a stellar debut season for one striker and a wake-up call for the other, it’s been odd to watch how Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney’s seasons have begun.

Rooney followed up his hit and miss 2012/13 campaign with a summer in which he supposedly coveted a transfer to Chelsea, all of which made for an atmosphere of discontent and confusion.

Yet the Englishman has been the one bright spot in the doom and gloom that our first seven games have been shrouded in, while the Dutchman seems a little lost in the dark.

It’s as if Rooney has used all the hurt he’s felt since being dropped for the Real Madrid game last season, including Sir Alex telling the world he’d asked for a transfer, and channelled it to unleash on his opponents.

You never know, he might be putting himself in the shop window for next summer, but for now, United fans have to be delighted that while Fergie told a TV presenter with a microphone that Rooney had asked for a transfer, the player is at least doing his talking on the pitch.

I’m not going to say that Van Persie’s form in the last few games is anything to be concerned about either. People are all too quick to jump to words like slump and crisis, but after such a stunning, goal glut of a first season in a red shirt, it’s easy to say that Van the Man isn’t in red hot form when he’s not hitting the back of the net.

His two goals on the opening day at Swansea City were brilliant, but his only goal since has been a penalty against Crystal Palace.

He had a great opportunity to wrap things up against Sunderland after a brilliant throughball from Antonio Valencia put him in on goal. You were expecting the net to bulge but it didn’t and that in itself is a surprise.

Any talk of a crisis for the latter is laughable but it is noticeable that the man who seemed to be in a career crisis and close to leaving the club in the summer has really endeared himself to the cause and carried the team on his back so far this season, while last year’s golden boy is failing to shine so far.

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